We’d be forgiven for thinking that we’re pretty familiar with subterranean London. Its famous Underground transport network sees thousands upon thousands of busy city dwellers dive below street level every day.
But there’s more lurking down below than just tube tunnels and tracks. Here, experts at The London Pass uncover some what lies beneath, from historic catacombs to lime mines, arty tunnels and underground museums to reveal the hidden world waiting to be explored.
One of the most popular museums in London is the Churchill War Rooms, a bunker and series of secret underground rooms at the basement of the New Public Office, behind Westminster, Houses of Parliament.
This is where Churchill ran the country during the Second World War. He even lived there. This museum is a fascinating insight into the British war efforts during and Churchill’s time as prime minister. Discover documents, personal artefacts, interactive displays and media illuminating what life was like during the Blitz and years around the Second World War.
Just outside London, in Kent, are the Chislehurst Caves – 20 miles of passageways underground. These tunnels were used to mine flint and lime for thousands of years, as far back as Roman times. It only stopped being mined in the 1830s. Today you can take a guided tour underground to explore the caves and learn about its history as one of the country’s most important natural resources. The caves were also used to store ammunition in the First World War.
Leake Street, also known as, Graffiti Tunnel or Banksy Tunnel, can be found near Waterloo Station, south of the river. It’s considered the ‘hall of fame’ for graffiti and street artists and everyone tries to vie for a place on the hallowed tunnel walls. Running 300m below the platforms at Waterloo Station, it’s been a site of graffiti artistry since Banksy’s ‘Cans Festival’ in 2008. It’s now open to pedestrians only so you can walk through the tunnel at leisure and admire the vibrant creations.
You can’t miss a trip to Gordon’s Wine Bar during your time in London. Nestled just off Villiers Street on the way to Embankment, it’s London’s oldest wine cellar. It can be found down a set of wooden steps that take you into a vaulted, candlelit cavern – beware, you have to stoop. Before becoming Gordon’s Wine Bar as we know it, the building was home to the writer Samuel Pepys in the 1680s so it’s steeped in history. Now Gordon’s is a hotspot for local Londoners who seek out the range of wines and delicious cheese platters for an after-work treat. It’s a fantastic location especially in the winter when you get the full effect of the cosy candlelit setting and dark corners.
Ever wondered if you could walk beneath the Thames? You can. This foot tunnel connects the Isle of Dogs in the north to the south at Greenwich. The tunnel opened in 1902 to allow for an alternative route to cross the river, as the ferry service was somewhat unreliable. If you fancy walking underneath the River Thames, the entrance to the Greenwich side is near the historic Cutty Sark, and the northern entrance is in a park called Island Gardens on the Isle of Dogs. Did you know it’s even open 24 hours a day thanks to being classified by law as a public highway?
As if you need another reason to visit the quirky borough of Camden; aside from the vintage market, Stables and brilliant cultural diversity, Camden is also home to its own catacombs. Underneath the Stables you’ll find a maze of passages, tunnels and chambers running underneath the market stalls dating back to the 19th century. Although these catacombs are not open to the public, you can access them through an opening in Regent’s Canal known as the Dead Dog’s Hole – but you’ll need a kayak or boat to get there.
London has so much to offer than meets the eye; from disused ghost stations in the underground, to historic catacombs accessible only by water; take a subterranean tour of London and discover the secret passages, tunnels and caves which help make London the diverse and historic city that it is today.